School leadership is presently a high-agenda item internationally. Terry Dozier in the USA, Michael Fullan in Canada, Graham Donaldson in Scotland (we’ll return to him), are all insisting that quality leadership is the key to improving education.
The final criterion, in How Good Is Our School, the handbook by which Scottish schools are measured, is Management, Leadership and Quality Assurance, an intriguing combination.
With such a seeming consensus, it is perhaps no wonder that SecEd should also look closely at leadership on this page and in many other articles over the last few months.
For example, in November SecEd reported that the Headteachers Association of Scotland (HAS) had been removed by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities from the National Joint Negotiating Committee on teachers’ conditions of service.
HAS’s crime? It stated that Scottish local councils were too diverse to manage schools and a better model would be joint boards similar to those which manage health or the police.
It almost tempted me into joining HAS, as a gesture of solidarity. What leadership from the politicians who currently manage Scottish schools that they cannot accept criticism of their structures from a relatively small professional body? Where is the courage, the vision, the openness which educational leaders are told are essential?
So perhaps the first doubt which many teachers have when they hear the leadership drum being beaten, is that the loudest leadership drummers are often the least skilled and most insensitive of leaders.
The concept of leadership is deemed suspect also however when leadership and ?quality assurance? are too closely linked. John Christian’s article (Developing people, SecEd, November 23, 2006) posed the question of what was required to ensure that the skills of school staff were developed to help schools run more efficiently.
Whether efficiency is the ultimate aim of school leadership, even of school management, must itself be questionable. The proposed display of pupil and assessment data to ?motivate? teachers reinforces the doubts of many that quality assurance and quantity assurance have become inextricably confused. Educational leaders require to abstain from weighing the hog and concentrate instead on feeding it.
Perhaps these confusions make sense of Carole Whitty’s plea that the leadership of schools requires to remain in the hands of educationalists.
She is right to point out that the accountant’s view of education would suggest that it matters little whether the manager/ leader has an understanding of the processes of teaching and learning. She has struck a rich vein. Teaching and learning are human processes, underpinned always and inevitably by warm and sound relationships. That in itself should ensure that we keep them out of the hands of the accountants and statisticians.
She is right also that good educational leaders have a vision in which values are central. My own school, like many others, has a Values Code and the first sentence of that code is, ?We value learning.? In other words learning is not merely a means to an end but is an end itself. It may just be that being a teacher is not the essential criterion to leading a school, but an active commitment to, involvement in and wide experience of learning and teaching, the very processes for which schools exist must be high on the essentials list.
A very few non-teachers may have such skills but they will almost inevitably be involved somewhere in the broader educational process.
Underpinning the move however to a managerial perspective on school leadership is the market perspective on education. For some twenty-seven years in a UK context (and the election of the Blair government changed nothing in respect of this) education was conceptualised as a commodity, something to be bought and sold on the market. There is a greater scepticism in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK about the managerial perspective on school leadership. Perhaps in significant part that flows from the fact that in Scotland education largely continues to be seen as a right and an essential public service rather than as a commodity.
What of course has allowed the management apparatchiks to suggest that a school is no different from a commercial organisation and can be led by any skilled manager, is that in the past it was seen as a sufficient qualification for head-teachership to have been an excellent teacher. The result has been schools led by strong educationalists but weak leaders and unskilled managers.
Certainly, head-teachers and aspiring head-teachers require to transcend the skills of excellence in teaching and move to excellence in leadership. But what do we mean by that? The pursuit of graphs and statistics and the creation of internal competition among teachers and departments? A head for figures and finance? Superlative IT skills? Hopefully not.
What schools require in their leaders is firstly a commitment to the processes of high quality learning and teaching. They also require leadership which is not centralised in one lonely character, the head-teacher, but spread, diffused and delegated.
They require leaders who are continuously creating new leaders who will lead in a range of different contexts: the department, the classroom, the corridor and dining-hall, the curriculum working group.
They require leaders who can accept that in some situations and at some historical junctures, the most senior of leaders will be led by the most junior because in these situations or times the most junior happen to be the best. They require leaders who are not enamoured of their own status or leaderly symbols.
Hugh MacDiarmid offered a simple trilogy of qualities as the foundation for leadership: clarity, sincerity and integrity. Norman Drummond of Columba 1400, one of the new leadership development agencies, offers six: awareness, focus, creativity, integrity, perseverance and service.
Her Majesty’s Inspectors would not always be teachers’ favourite role-models for leadership but Graham Donaldson, Scotland’s Senior Chief HMI, recently offered a fine model of the leaderly individual.
He suggested that leader has a clear focus on the big picture, the ability to build confidence, resilience, bravery, the ability to make connections, the ability to manage change and to manage risk, a painstaking approach and, finally, a hunger to learn.
You pays and your money and takes your choice and, personally, I could accept any of MacDiarmid, Drummond or Donaldson.
For school leadership, Donaldson’s inspiration was finalising his list with a hunger to learn. How can school leaders inspire that in their learners if they don’t model it themselves?
If the trend towards a bureaucratic model of school management is to be reversed, then we require a humane alternative based on values and ethical commitments. The problem which that poses for those seeking quick solutions is that such attributes cannot be learned in a 3-day in-service course but are shaped over a life-time.
The above article was first published in SecEd on 17 May 2007.